The Meaning Of Life

On November 29, 1969, Laura Nyro singer, pianist and song writer had three of her songs in the Top 10, although none of them were performed by her.  Blood, Sweat & Tears ‘And When I Die’ reached #2, the 5th Dimension ‘Wedding Bell Blues’ got to #3 and Three Dog Night ‘Eli’s Coming’ was at #10.  Around 1955, when Laura Nyro was 17 years old she wrote ‘And When I Die’ and later she sold the song to the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary for $5,000.  In 1966, Nyro obtained a record contract after auditioning before record company executive Artie Mogull, who had earlier signed Bob Dylan to his first major-label contract and she released her 1967 debut album, More Than a New DiscoveryThis was a remarkably sophisticated collection of original songs that featured Wedding Bell Blues’, ‘Stoney End’ which was done later by Barbara Streisand and also ‘And When I Die’.  That same year, she performed at the famous Monterey Pop Festival and after her performance, record producer David Geffen signed Nyro to a $4 million contract with Columbia Records.  Her next two albums were widely regarded as her best, 1968’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession and 1969’s New York Tendaberry, however even though they were critically acclaimed, these albums were not commercially successful.

‘And When I Die’ is a song about the eternal cycle of life that is filled with an eerily prescient sense of mortality.  When someone dies, you need to find a way to deal with this and this teenage girl had a profound idea that a new baby would be born to take the place of the person that passed away.  Laura wrote, “I’m not scared of dying and I don’t really care.  If it’s peace you find in dying, well, then let the time be near” which really shows courage.  My paternal grandmother always made me laugh as she would say, “When I die, wrap me up in a burlap bag and kick me down the sewer” and this same callous attitude about burial is in the lyrics, “Just bundle up my coffin cause it’s cold way down there.”  It is difficult to understand how Laura Nyro was able to understand so much about life while she was still so young, especially as she wrote, “My troubles are many, they’re as deep as a well”, and I guess that having troubles makes you grow up quicker.  This song touches on a theme of atheism with the line, “I can swear there ain’t no heaven but I pray there ain’t no hell”, and I guess it is always better to be safe than sorry.

No one can say for sure what awaits us after we die and this is made clear by the line, “But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell”, as that is when the meaning of life will be revealed, the hidden secrets will be exposed and you will face the consequences.  Laura says, “Give me my freedom for as long as I be.  All I ask of living is to have no chains on me, And all I ask of dying is to go naturally, only want to go naturally”, which shows her intellectual depth understanding that people want to die peacefully and with dignity.  Laura continues, “Don’t want to go by the devil, don’t want to go by the demon, Don’t want to go by Satan, don’t want to die uneasy, Just let me go naturally”, so when death happens you can slip away and it’s not a frightening ordeal.

A lot of people are on the fence about Laura Nyro not knowing what to make of her, as she had a lot of talent, and wrote some stellar songs, but because of her stage fright, she was never a great performer.  Although many of her songs were hits for others, as an artist, Nyro only had one lone pop chart hit that made it into the Top 100 ‘Up on the Roof’ which was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and that only made it to No. 92.  She only had one Top 40 album, ‘New York Tendaberry’, which rose up to No. 32.  Laura was a wayward yet reclusive artist, who resisted pressure to streamline her songs for mass consumption.  Sadly, Laura Nyro died from ovarian cancer at age 49 on April 8, 1997 and on April 14, 2012, she was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Blood, Sweat & Tears was a jazz-rock American music group noted for their combination of brass and rock band instrumentation.  The idea of forming the electric rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears was conceived by Al Kooper in July of 1967 who was an ex-member of the Blues Project.  He wanted to be in charge musically and he found three members who wanted to work with him, those being bassist Jim Fielder who did a short stint in Frank Zappa’s The Mothers of Invention, Blues Project guitarist Steve Katz, and drummer Bobby Colomby.  The horn section featured Fred Lipsius (saxophone), with Randy Brecker and Jerry Weiss on trumpets and flügelhorns, and Dick Halligan playing trombone.  The new group was signed to Columbia Records at the same time as Laura Nyro was there.  The name Blood, Sweat & Tears came to Kooper after a jam at the Cafe au Go Go, where a cut on his hand left his organ keyboard covered in blood.

1968 was a landmark year for Blood Sweat & Tears, the band already had two albums and they were going through a critical transition. Less than a year after forming the band, founder, principal songwriter, keyboard player and singer Al Kooper was out of the band.  They asked Kooper to give up his front man position, but he declined and this left the band in a precarious  state with dim desires reasons for concern. Kooper did leave in March of 1968, and Brecker followed him out.  A surprising turn of events of Colomby and Katz deciding to salvage the band out of this debacle.  The lineup was reshuffled and expanded, Kooper had played the organ and now the keyboard was given to Dick Halligan.  For a lead singer they found a Canadian national named David Clayton-Thomas and this allowed them to release their second album, which was a commercial success.

The BS&T album reached no. 1 on the Billboard chart in April 1969 and went on to sell four million copies.  It was also the album that included one of the band’s best songs ‘And When I Die’.  The group’s second album, Blood, Sweat & Tears, was produced by James William Guercio and released in late 1968.  The record quickly hit the top of the charts, winning Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards over the Beatles’ Abbey Road, among other nominees and it eventually became a quadruple Multi-Platinum album.  ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ written by Berry Gordy Jr., Brenda Holloway, Patrice Holloway and Frank Wilson rose to number two on the charts.  A whole herd of songs like ‘Spinning Wheel’ by David Clayton-Thomas, ‘More and More’ by Vee Pee Smith and Don Juan, ‘Smiling Phases’ by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood and ‘God Bless the Child’ by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr. were also on this album.  ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’, ‘Spinning Wheel’ & the song ‘And When I Die’ strangely all peaked at no. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

And when I die
and when I’m dead, dead and gone,
There’ll be one child born and
a world to carry on, to carry on

I’m not scared of dying
and I don’t really care
If it’s peace you find in dying,
well, then let the time be near

If it’s peace you find in dying,
when dying time is here,
Just bundle up my coffin cause
it’s cold way down there,

I hear that’s it’s cold way down there,
yeah, crazy cold way down there
And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born and
a world to carry on, to carry on

My troubles are many, they’re as deep as a well
I can swear there ain’t no heaven but I pray there ain’t no hell
Swear there ain’t no heaven and pray there ain’t no hell,
But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell,
Only my dying will tell, yeah, only my dying will tell
And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born and a world to carry on, to carry on

Give me my freedom for as long as I be
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me,
And all I ask of dying is to go naturally, only want to go naturally
Don’t want to go by the devil, don’t want to go by the demon,
Don’t want to go by Satan, don’t want to die uneasy,
Just let me go naturally
And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born, there’ll be one child born
When I die, there’ll be one child born
When I die, there’ll be one child born
When I die, there’ll be one child born
When I die, there’ll be one child born

Written for Daily Addictions prompt – Concern, for FOWC with Fandango – Fence, for October Writing Prompts – Dim desires, for Ragtag Community – Herd and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Stellar.

13 thoughts on “The Meaning Of Life

      1. I spent 4 hours writing this post about And When I Die, a Laura Nyro song that was a hit for Blood Sweat and Tears and then you have to throw in Chicago, however there is a link, as their producer James William Guercio also worked with Chicago.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I didn’t mean to be critical of your post, the time you took to research and write it, or of either Laura Nyro (who I’d never previously heard of) or of BST. BST’s sound was similar to Chicago’s, and I was merely intending to say that I liked Chicago’s music better than BST’s. I am sorry that I did it in an inarticulate manner.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Please never apologize to me as I am ALWAYS kidding and I would like to think that it is OK for us to tease each other. I am a bit surprised that you never heard of Laura Nero as I have written about her before in a post titled Irma Makes a Manic Monday for Sandi Flip Flops. I wrote that the Monterey Pop Festival got off to a dismal start when songwriter John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas called Laura Nyro up and invited her to join them in Monterey, which was her first major live appearance. She had never done a gig before, as all she ever did was to record music and this caused her anxiety.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. You seriously don’t think I can remember a post you wrote at least nine months ago in response to prompt from someone who is apparently no longer blogging. You came across sounding in your comments like you were a little peeved. Next time, try a smiley face 😊.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I liked reading about this (the song and everything related). (You’re good at this music topic in general as we knew.) Songs like this can be thought-provoking. I remember liking the fun presentation as a kid. (As an adult, I’m not a fan of the piece of Pascalian philosophy — but I can see the point.) I have a similar sense with regard to death itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was not thinking about Pascale’s wager of having everything to gain and nothing to lose by believing in God, but that seems very appropriate in that line, “Swear there ain’t no heaven and pray there ain’t no hell.”

      Like

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